Richard Beastall, Principal Director in the Interiors Division and Chris Bennie, Principal Director in the Architecture Division, at tp bennett, discuss levelling the design playing field
As architectural practices struggle to give greater authority to their interior design departments, Richard and Chris explain the client value of a practice that has equalised the status of its disciplines, and how it can benefit the wider design community.
RB: Historically tp bennett always had an interiors function, but it was when we gave it gravitas that it started to prosper.
CB: From the outset, interior design was an additional service, a bolt on, but this was before the days of space planning. Suddenly we were working with occupiers who wanted to do something better with space, and developers who realised that by improving common areas the value of the scheme could be enhanced.
For tp bennett, it was in the 1980s that the practice, and its clients, started to appreciate the benefits and value of improved space planning and design. While their peers maintained a focus on delivering architecture, tp bennett began to create a new model of service that gave the interiors function more credibility within the architectural-design cycle. Today, many architectural practices are able to offer interior design, but tp bennett believes that it is still regarded as secondary to architecture and this inhibits many practices from the growth they want to achieve.
RB: One of the benefits in positioning interior design as an equal to its architectural counterpart is that we attract the best people from all over the world who see the value of the two working in collaboration. In many architectural practices, interior design is like a second class service and vocation.
CB: Our decision initially to give the interior design team its own brand name, bennett interior design, emphasised how important we believed the discipline to be. The long-term aim was, once established, to drop this separate identity and truly absorb it into the tp bennett brand, which we did five years ago. They say the benefit of creating a union between the disciplines is that it supports those developers who want to gain insight on internal design and occupier trends. With experience working for both occupiers and developers, a practice is able to offer a more holistic view of a development and share that knowledge with clients.
RB: The most effective way to design a building is from the inside out as well as the outside in; understanding the range of prospective occupiers and how they think and like to use space can inform the design of speculative office buildings.
The office and corporate sectors were platforms for tp bennett to experiment and establish the interior design discipline, but even in the 1980s, the practice was aware of the opportunities that this integrated service presented cross-sector.
CB: What we do is a simple transference of knowledge. Materials, products and design ideas are constantly evolving; this knowledge can be used cross-sector, so, for example, office communal areas are shaped by high-end hospitality, and residential design takes influence from materials and technologies used across commercial sectors. Similarly, high-end retail aims to provide environments that encourage the same feelings of comfort that their customers may experience in a luxury hotel or at home.
RB: Understanding the needs of the individual occupiers, as well as enabling developers reach their architectural ambitions means a practice can make informed decisions on how a project should progress. We can integrate this knowledge at the front–end by using cross sector expertise so the whole teamwork together to deliver the project holistically. The idea is that the client receives designs for the ultimate flexible space.